Native speakers love to use idioms, and I love to teach them to my English students. In this post, you will learn some common idioms and expressions with dragon. Dragons are powerful, magical creatures in both early European and Asian cultures. They are thought of as monsters and gods.
- Chase The Dragon
- Dragon Breath /Dragon Mouth
- Dragon Lady
- Drain The Dragon
- Feed The Dragon
- Here Be Dragons
- Tickle The Dragon’s Tail
- Sow Dragon’s Teeth
You’ll find everything you need in this post. Clear definitions and real example sentences so you can see these idioms in action. Learn the word origins and see how dragons are used in popular culture today. PLUS – Dragon idioms from China and Japan.
A dragon is a creature found in ancient stories across many different cultures.
A dragon is a reptile-like legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary considerably through regions, but dragons in western cultures since the High Middle Ages have often been depicted as winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire. Dragons in eastern cultures are usually depicted as wingless, four-legged, serpentine creatures with above-average intelligence.
Dragon. (2022, September 18). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon
Some scientists believe that the ideas of dragons come from very large species of crocodiles that no longer exist. Crocodiles have some of the features that we think of when we think of dragons, scales, long tails, and sharp teeth. Of course, they are not as big as dragons, and crocodiles can’t fly.
In stories, European dragons often have horns and can breathe fire, whereas dragons in the stories of Asian culture could fly without wings and are very smart.
The earliest known depiction of a dragon is a stylized C-shaped representation carved in jade. Found in eastern Inner Mongolia, it belonged to the Hongshan culture, which thrived between 4500 and 3000 BCE. SOURCE
Chase The Dragon
Slang – To use an illegal drug, often heroin.
- I can’t get ahold of Kyle, I hope he’s not off chasing the dragon again. He needs some help.
Dragon Breath /Dragon Mouth
Slang – Terrible smelling breath.
- Wow, you have some serious dragon breath my friend, here have a piece of peppermint gum.
Slang – A woman who is powerful and controlling. *This is meant to be negative – A powerful woman is a strong woman, this is meant as a compliment. A Dragon Lady does not have a positive feeling.
- The new boss seemed like a real Dragon Lady at first, but she is really quite nice now that I’ve gotten to know her.
Drain The Dragon
Slang/rude – Of a man, to go to the bathroom; to pee. Dragon means penis in this idiom.
- Let me drain the dragon before we leave.
Tickle The Dragon’s Tail
To do something risky or dangerous.
- The boss is in a bad mood today so I would wait before asking him for raise. If you ask him today you’re just tickling the dragon’s tail.
*I found this idiom during my research but to be honest I have never heard it or used it before. It may be more common in Europe (I’m from Canada) or other countries so I’ve included it in this post.
Feed The Dragon
Feed the Dragon has come to be known as outsourcing business or jobs to China. A dragon is often thought of as a symbol of China, so the Dragon means China in this expression.
- The company has decided to do all the manufacturing locally. We won’t buy from China and feed the dragon anymore.
It can also refer to someone buying products that are made and imported from China. If you buy Chinese products you are feeding the Dragon.
- Most of the electronics we buy are manufactured in China. We’re all feeding the dragon.
Feed the Dragon has a third use. As we saw in our first idiom, dragon can refer to heroin or drug use, some kind of negative behavior often caused by addiction. If someone makes poor choices that cause him or her to continue or return to negative behavior, we can say they are feeding the Dragon.
- I’m worried about Kyle, I heard he stole some money from his friends and disappeared. I’m scared he is off somewhere feeding the dragon.
Here Be Dragons
This means dangerous or unexplored territories. It was a medieval practice to put illustrations of dragons, sea monsters, and other mythological creatures on uncharted areas of maps where potential dangers were thought to exist.
Here be dragons. (2022, April 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_be_dragons
Today people may use this expression as a warning that a place or situation is dangerous.
We don’t hear this expression used in conversation very much but I found MANY books with this title about many different subjects. SOURCE
Sow Dragon’s Teeth
In Greek myths, dragon teeth were a common subject. Their teeth will grow into fully armed warriors after you plant them.
Dragon’s teeth (mythology). (2021, October 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_teeth_(mythology)
“To sow dragon’s teeth” is used as a metaphor to refer to doing something that causes trouble and disagreements. [The verb sow means to plant.]
*This is another new one for me. I haven’t ever heard or used this idiom before researching this post.
Dragon Idioms from China and Japan
Here are some Chinese expressions with Dragon that I found
畫龍點睛 to add eyes when painting a dragon – doing something so well that it becomes powerful.
Chengyu. (2022, August 3). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chengyu
Literal translation: crouching tiger, hidden dragon
Meaning: a place or situation that is full of people with unusual talents
*Find out more about the movie with this title in the Movies With Dragon section down below.
龙飞凤舞 (Lóng fēi fèn gwǔ) — The dragon flies and the phoenix dances.
A flamboyant style of calligraphy and writing with no content. (It looks pretty but it doesn’t mean anything.)
龙马精神 (Lóng mǎ jīngshén) — A dragon’s and a horse’s spirit.
A strong spirit in old age.
鱼龙混杂 (Yú lóng hùnzá) — A muddled mix of fish and dragons.
Crooked people mixed in with honest people.
车水马龙 (Chē shuǐ mǎ long) — Carriages like a stream and horses like a dragon.
This means heavy traffic, a traffic jam. (Chinese dragons have very long bodies).
A Dragon Idiom from Japan
Literal translation and kanji breakdown: 龍頭 (Ryutou; dragon head) and 蛇尾 (snake tail) form an image of a massive dragon’s head with a tiny snake body. This can be translated to mean a strong start but a poor finish.
Dragons in Popular Culture
Dragons have appeared in popular culture for many many years. Often as monsters doing terrible things and need to be defeated by a hero. The dragon Smaug from the Lord of the Rings movies is this kind of monster.
There have also been kind dragons like Falkor from the 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story [IMDb] and a popular song from the 60s called Puff the Magic Dragon.
Watch the video below and read the lyrics as you listen to the song.
Dragon Ball is a popular Japanese comic and cartoon that has become popular around the world. There are several animated movies and one live-action.
*The creator of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball fans strongly dislike the live-action movie.
Movies With Dragon
There are many movies with dragons or the word dragon in the title. I have added a few here that are popular or well-known and, of course, some of my personal favorites.
From our section on Chinese idioms, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the title of a movie released in the year 2000 that won 4 Academy Awards. IMDb
How to Train Your Dragon is a popular movie from 2010 that has 2 sequels. IMDb
Pete’s Dragon is a Disney movie from 1977 that combined an animated dragon with a live-action movie. IMDb Pete’s Dragon was remade in 2016 using modern computer animation combined with live action. IMDb
Bruce Lee (The Dragon)
I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee growing up. When Bruce Lee was a child actor in Hong Kong he was given the name little dragon. The word Dragon was used in two of his most popular movies.
Find more GREAT Idiom posts below!